MAYFAIR – Whenever Gino Viola visited the Philippines with his family, he stopped by Max’s restaurant, which has since grown into a global restaurant chain.
After starting a hotel business called Leslie Food Ventures in 2018 with three other people, Viola, an American Filipina from Chicago, wanted to bring Max’s tradition to the city’s large Filipino community and expand her culture to the people of Chicago.
In late 2019, he quietly opened Max’s first restaurant in the Midwest at 5033 N. Elston Ave., but had to close soon after due to the coronavirus pandemic. After a year of take out orders, meal donations to frontline workers and a slow reopening, Max’s had a grand grand opening on June 30 to educate the restaurant district and celebrate Filipino heritage.
“We are here to stay and we really want to be a part of the community,” Viola said.
Viola remembers that when he first opened his door, people waited outside for three to four hours just to get a table. He said it was proof that the community wanted a Max to come to Chicago and that the restaurant’s location, which is next to a popular Filipino grocery store and the highway, makes it easy. accessible.
“Being next to Seafood City made a lot of sense for us,” he said. “A lot of our customers come from the suburbs and from Minnesota, Wisconsin, just to shop there. This made it even more strategic.
Viola said he wanted to create a large-scale Filipino restaurant, especially one that creates nostalgia among the Filipino community.
Max’s has strong historical significance.
Max’s, which celebrated its 75th birthday last year, opened in the Philippines in 1945 under the direction of Maximo Gimenez, a Filipino teacher who befriended US troops stationed in Quezon City, north -est of Manila.
The soldiers often hung out at Gimenez’s house next door for a drink or two, and they insisted they pay for their drinks, according to the brand’s website. This prompted Gimenez to open a cafe. The menu was created by his niece, Ruby Trota, who made a crispy fried chicken recipe that has become loved by the entire community.
Viola said Max’s has come to be known as “The House the Fried Chicken Built”. It now has 200 sites in the Philippines, eight in the Middle East and 17 in North America.
It is seen as an extension of the home for many Filipino immigrants, Viola said.
“We all love the Max’s brand,” he said. “Every time we went to Las Vegas, California or New Jersey, that would be the stop. Chicago was ready for it, so we had to bring it here.
Some of the restaurant’s popular dishes include Trota’s Original, a whole fried chicken that’s best served with banana ketchup; crispy pata, which is a fried pork knuckle; Marinated barbecue skewers and pa g, pork, chicken and shrimp.
The menu also offers seafood dishes, like the popular fried milkfish, and vegetarian options like vegetable stew with tofu and noodles.
Chef Mary Jane Jaranilla, originally from the Philippines and living in Chicago for 20 years, said her favorite dishes were the fried chicken and pata, which the kitchen prepares just like Trota did.
“Based on Ruby’s history of food making, we followed her recipes,” Jaranilla said. “We haven’t changed anything … it’s all hers.”
The chef and owners said they have received positive feedback from customers since opening and hope to keep the momentum going as more people feel comfortable eating again.
Viola said people told her the restaurant brought back memories of her visit to Max’s on the island and that they were grateful her team brought her to Chicago. He hopes the restaurant will keep the culture alive.
“The grandparents who are here, they lived the experience of Max, and my mother lived it too,” he said. “When I go back to the Philippines, I will have Max’s, but for a lot of… Filipinos who were born here, they are not exposed. But we want to maintain the tradition and this lineage…. We don’t want to lose this.
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